Why Hasn’t Additive Manufacturing Become Mainstream?

by Matthew Wellington on February 23, 2014

Additive Manufacturing at HomeAlthough many people hadn’t known about additive manufacturing until recently, it is not really a new technology in the market.

In fact over the past couple of years, additive manufacturing has been used to Create a Number of Startling Objects that have managed to make it reasonably popular.

On top of that its contribution in important fields like medicine, manufacturing, prototyping and defense has been evident. Thanks to the creativity of many designers, scientists and professionals; the things 3D printing (as it’s also called) has been used to do so far and the resulting benefits of the same are simply extraordinary.

However despite its widespread popularity across the world, it’s a funny thing that you still don’t see much of 3D printing in homes. Well, there are some people who have embraced it fully and even bought 3D printers to use in their homes. But the numbers of such people is nothing compared to the greater majority who still don’t give much attention to additive manufacturing.

This makes one wonder; with all its benefits, efficiency and convenience, why hasn’t additive manufacturing become mainstream?

In spite of all the upsides that are associated with 3D printing, there are still some factors which make it almost impossible for it to be fully embraced by the rest of the world at large. Here are some reasons why it may take some time before additive manufacturing can finally become mainstream.

Costly 3D Printers

3D printers are currently not as expensive as they used to be some years ago. Actually, looking back, it’s clear that the prices of 3D printers are quickly dropping much to the relief of everyone who would like to own one.

But this does not necessarily mean that 3D printers are any cheaper now. Most of the printers you will find still cost over $5000, which is obviously pricey for the majority of 3D enthusiasts interested in purchasing them.

Companies like MakerBot and 3D Systems are trying to design cheaper printers but the fact at the moment remains the same. These printers are way too expensive for the ordinary user and even some small businesses.

As a result, since most people and small businesses can’t access such printers; it becomes difficult for the technology to get mainstream.

Patents

Selective Laser Sintering is one of the most advanced 3D printing technologies there is. This is a low cost technology that is capable of not only producing fascinating 3D models but creating final products, which can be sold to consumers.

The problem is there have been certain key patents covering sintering technology. These patents have over the years prevented other companies from accessing laser sintering. Because of this, many of the 3D printing companies have been left to exploit other technologies which are less cost effective making 3D printers to be equally pricey and thus out of reach to many households.

No Finished Products

Due to limited access of the laser sintering technology to many 3D printing companies, it has been quite a challenge for such companies to produce quality final products using additive manufacturing. For the most part, the technology has been used only to Create Prototypes and Models.

While it is certainly beneficial to fabricate models and prototypes through additive manufacturing, most consumers are interested in obtaining real final products made using the technology. It has been said countless times that additive manufacturing can be used in mass producing customizable final products, but there has not been much evidence to affirm these claims.

Without final products in the market, it is quite arduous for 3D printing to attract the larger percentage of buyers and consumers who would have played a vital role in making the technology become mainstream.

Less Advanced 3D Printing Technologies

Since laser sintering has for a long time been covered by patents, less advanced 3D printing technologies are the ones that have been getting much of the attention of 3D printing companies. The only difference is such technologies are good for creating models for illustration purposes, but do not have the ability to create worthy final products so that they can be used in mass production of goods.

The fact that the market has been flooded by less advanced additive manufacturing technologies is one of the main reasons why not many finished products have been fabricated. This has contributed in preventing additive manufacturing from going mainstream.

Limited Access to the Technology

Another reason why additive manufacturing has yet to become mainstream is because many people generally have limited access to the technology. Not only has this been caused by the fact that 3D printers are expensive but also due to the fact that so many people lack the skills and experience of using 3D printers, Software and Modelling Tools to create their own designs.

For this reason many people are more comfortable with conventional manufacturing technologies than 3D printing. Albeit some schools are beginning to incorporate Additive Manufacturing Lessons in their curriculum, it still may take some time before a great segment of the population can have the necessary skills and prowess of putting the technology to good use.

Slow Fabrication Speed

Another challenge of creating final products through additive manufacturing is the long time duration it often takes to create parts of a product. Compared to most of the traditional manufacturing techniques, additive manufacturing appears to be too slow to be practical.

The creation speed of a product or parts of a product will have to be greatly increased before 3D printing can be regarded as efficient enough to compete favourably with conventional manufacturing technologies.

Limited 3D Printing Materials

There are only a few materials that can be used to create a product or prototype using additive manufacturing.

Most printers only create plastic or some metallic components. This has made it difficult for additive manufacturing to create similar varieties of products as those produced through classical manufacturing technologies.

Essentially, something has to be done about these key limiting factors in order for additive manufacturing to go mainstream.

There is no denying it that 3D Printing Has Made Tremendous Progress in the last few years. Nonetheless, a lot still needs to be done for it to become a mainstream technology. About 3D Printers.

Thanks for reading and please share this article if you found it interesting.

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